December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Color it beautiful

Avon.com isn’t just another pretty face at the online cosmetics counter. The site’s hip presentation techniques have a strong utilitarian bent. No small, blurry pictures here. Click on an item, and a large color photo pops up, along with a text box that describes the product. Likewise, the site’s color swatches are easy to see and conveniently grouped into “warm” and “cool” categories.

“They really seem to be addressing customer needs,” says Liz Leonard, a senior analyst at Gomez Advisors. In fact, the power of suggestion practiced by generations of Avon Ladies works just as well online as it does in person. Leonard especially likes Avon’s Beauty Advisor, a personalization feature that invites shoppers to enter their skin, eye and hair colors, then suggests flattering shades and products.

Other site features aren’t as flattering. Avon needs to work on a few blemishes, including the fact that the site loads s-l-o-w-l-y. And though lovers of white space will like its clean look, Leonard chastises Avon.com for failing to take full advantage of its “screen real estate.”

Whether running a Web store will undercut Avon’s venerable direct sales force is another worry. Still, the grand dame of beauty products, founded in 1886, has shown a stubborn refusal to lag behind the times-or pass up an opportunity to build market share. Sleek and modern, the easy-to-navigate site should ring virtual doorbells for a new generation of cosmetic shoppers.

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